ST. MARTINVILLE — The owner of a St. Martinville mobile home park who has been involved in a running feud for more than a year with city council members and city employees over electrical issues at his park lost a round last week when law enforcement officials refused to accept malfeasance charges against Mayor Pro Tem Craig Prosper.
For several months, Evangeline Mobile Home Park owner Mark Brignac has threatened to file malfeasance charges against Prosper, saying that the mayor pro tem has failed to fulfill his duty because the city won’t pay to replace electrical lines feeding power to his park unless Brignac comes into compliance with city ordinances, specifically clearing an easement for work to be performed on existing city electrical poles.
The issue came to a head after Brignac paid for a permit in February to install a power pole for a security light at the park. When he installed the pole, however, he installed a 200 amp service capable of powering a mobile home instead of the 30 amp service one would use for a security light.
“I wasn’t going to hook it up to a mobile home,” Brignac said at the time. “I was just thinking ahead. If I wanted to put a home in that spot later, then it would already have adequate service.”
At the time, the city council had instituted a moratorium on work at the park pending the resolution of other issues at the site, meaning the permit, issued under former Chief Administrative Officer Shedrick Berard, should not have been issued at all.
In June, Prosper found that Brignac had moved a mobile home into the spot adjacent to the power pole — without getting permits to move the mobile home onto the site. Prosper talked to Public Works Superintendent Brian Touchet and asked him to have the meter at the pole removed even though it was not yet hooked up to the home.
At a council meeting on Nov. 18, Berard testified he told Brignac he could not move the trailer into the park. City Building Code Inspector Cooney Richard has also said he specifically told Brignac not to move any new homes into the park.
“Mr. Touchet advised the reason the meter was removed was because it was assumed the meter was going to be connected to the mobile home instead of the security light,” St. Martinville Police Chief Ricky Martin said in his report on the incident. “He stated to his knowledge the meter was only hooked up to the security light. I reviewed a copy of the work order and verified it was completed and signed by Mr. Touchet on June 25 with Mr. Prosper’s name on the top of the work order. Mr. Touchet stated the meter was taken to city barn for storage after it was removed. I went to the mobile home lot in question and there was a mobile home set up in lot 20 with no electricity.”
Martin said Touchet had the meter reinstalled approximately a week later.
For his part, Prosper said he was working within the scope of his duties as a city councilman.
“I did absolutely nothing wrong,” Prosper said. “We had a meeting called between me, Mayor (Melinda) Mitchell and Mr. Touchet specifically because of all the things that were going on at the park with him trying to hook up power. The problem was not just that one trailer. Issues already going on because of the other mobile homes on top of the gas lines, city water line and in the utility easement.”
Martin agreed in a report he filed explaining why no charges were being filed against Prosper.
“I spoke to City Attorney Allan Durand and he stated (it) was definitely not a criminal matter due to no criminal intent or malicious intent,” Martin wrote. “He stated the significant legal point in this matter is there was a moratorium in place to prevent more trailers being moved into the trailer park at the time the trailer was moved in. He stated any city councilman had a duty to enforce that moratorium, which would include making sure that anyone who violated the moratorium did not get the benefit of city services such as utilities.”
Brignac also took his argument to 16th JDC District Attorney Bo Duhé, who also decided not to pursue charges against Prosper.
“Mr. Brignac brought it to me,” Duhé said. “He explained to me in his words what had happened, and I said, based on that, prosecuting a case because the power pole was disconnected for a week wasn’t a good use of the resources of the judicial system.”
This is not the first tussle between Prosper and Brignac. On multiple occasions Brignac has accused Prosper of trying to buy the mobile home park out from under him when he was negotiating the purchase. He has also been prominent in court, appearing at the defense table of Lawrence “Nanny” Mitchell, who is still under a restraining order after threatening to kill Prosper in 2018. That restraining order expires in March. It was Brignac’s attorney, Kirk Piccione of Lafayette, who initially represented Mitchell in his litigation with Prosper in January.
In March, Mayor Mitchell had introduced a resolution to reimburse Brignac for some $1,200 in engineering fees for work done evaluating the electrical service at the park. That resolution was denied because the work was done on Brignac’s property for his benefit, not as part of a city project.
Also at the Nov. 18 meeting the owner of the trailer that was moved illegally into the park, Neal Lapeyrouse, appeared to argue for a “hardship permit” to get power hooked up because he had spent all of his money moving and restoring the trailer and would be homeless in weeks if he could not get power.
Prosper told Lapeyrouse at the meeting that he had Brignac to blame for his situation.
“He knew you could not move that trailer into the park,” Prosper said. “He took advantage of y’all.”
The pole for the security light is connected to the electrical poles on the side of the park that are still in disrepair. The council agreed to let Lapeyrouse hook power to the mobile home if it could be done from the other side of the park without incurring expense to the city. District 4 Councilman Juma Johnson said he would work with Brignac to see if that was possible.